Still in the festive mood for a trivia quiz? Then answer me this ..

Stephen Petty

Here is a question about all those question-and-answer books: how many people in the teaching profession have never received for Christmas either Why don't penguins feet freeze?, Does anything eat wasps? or - this Christmas - Do polar bears get lonely?

Anecdotal evidence suggests the answer is probably 47 people, although fewer still if you include similar QA books from The Guardian and QI stables. We are the typical target market for such books, but I rarely find the questions address the truly trivial mysteries facing teachers daily. Here are some that I want solved in a book one day.

Fashion and beauty

1. I normally present a fairly smooth face to the world, so why have I grown half a beard by the end of a parents' evening? In other words, why do I drive home afterwards looking (and feeling) like a werewolf?

2. Why, during these evenings, do some dads sit sideways on, legs crossed and facing outwards into the distance while the teachers bang on to earnest-looking mums and sons about upper-quartile targets? Can't say I blame the dad (after all, in my case there's hair growing all over me as I speak). But is he listening at all? If not, who does he loathe most: his family or us?

3. Why do so many women teachers think those billowing, calf-length culottes should have a regular place in their workaday wardrobe?

(Here's a related question about men.)

4. Can anyone name a well-dressed male teacher?

5. Do any balding male teachers still sport the classic comb-over hairstyle, or was I the last one to have it cut?

Here's a related question in this age of the skinhead teacher.

6. Why do at least three members of the male staff look almost exactly the same?

Health and wellbeing

7. Do those of us who rarely take a day off school generally experience longer or shorter lives than colleagues who appear to take to their beds after the first sneeze?

8. Why do teachers who tuck into pies and puddings in the dining hall generally look so much thinner than those who stay in the staffroom plucking lettuce and nuts from little plastic bowls?

9. Why are smokers so often the people with the wittiest banter?

Mixing with these outcasts now entails standing in a lay-by and slowly turning numb in the after-school darkness. So, for the sake of my own health, please tell me:

10. How can I stop some of my best teaching friends from smoking?

Professional etiquette

11. How many times in the morning should we greet the same colleague in the corridor before it is polite for us both to walk past without acknowledging the other?

12. If you have personally filled and switched on the staffroom kettle, do you have any legal comeback if your colleagues use all the boiled water before you?

13. Has any teacher ever followed the requested action when the classroom digital projector says it is in urgent need of a service? Or do we all just ignore it in the same nonchalant manner as when the photocopier pleads with us to "add toner"?

Urban myths

14. Is there any evidence to support the received wisdom that our pupils' behaviour is worse in windy weather? Or do we just walk across the playground to the next lesson - culottes propelling certain colleagues along like sails on a yacht - looking for confirmation of this?

15. Come to think of it, does the teacher's behaviour deteriorate in such weather, too?

16. Is behind the school bike sheds still the favoured venue for outrageous behaviour?

17. And is there a school left where that last question has never been answered with: "And that's just the teachers!"?


18. Who was the first teacher in Britain to address a class as "guys"?

19. Which education minister in history would have handled themselves best if thrown into a boxing ring with Joe Calzaghe? Would it be Ed Balls? Ruth Kelly? Sir Keith Joseph?

20. What is the record number of years for a display of pupils' work to stay on a school wall? (Has a visiting parent ever found their Year 9 show, for instance, still on exhibit?)

21. Has anyone ever dated a visiting Ofsted inspector?

Physics, time travel and so on

22. Why does the half-hour of frantic lesson preparation before school last 10 minutes at most, and then during the first lesson time starts moving at a snail's pace?

23. Why is the last period on a Tuesday afternoon always so fraught?

24. In connection with the last question, why is the internet unavailable just when you so desperately need it to be working?

25. Why are classrooms at this time of year always either too hot or too cold, and never just right?

26. What exactly does happen to all those vanishing board rubbers?

There are countless other such mysteries, of course. In fact, I feel like that lonely polar bear, merely pawing the surface of the great iceberg of educational mystery. But I wonder if anyone can help me with these questions first, before I dig up any more?

Stephen Petty, Head of humanities, Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire. 

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